Christians mobilise for UN anti-poverty goals
As government representatives from all over the world gathered in New York yesterday for the largest-ever United Nations summit, church leaders, Christian agencies and NGOs continued mobilising for decisive action against global poverty.
Calls for firm commitments on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have come from, among others, Pope Benedict XVI, the World Council of Churches, the Micah Challenge (World Evangelical Alliance) and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
Yesterday a huge three-day prayer vigil was launched near the UN buildings in New York, attended by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other prominent figures.
The unanimity of global Christian concern was consolidated at a Consultation of Religious Leaders on Global Poverty held in Washington DC at the beginning of the week.
However, the UN summit takes place at a difficult time - with a highly critical report having just been received on the world body's poor governance, corruption, and the former Iraq oil-for-food programme.
World church leaders have called on the United Nations to maintain its core vision, but the Bush administration in the US has been broadly hostile towards the organisation, which it sees as undermining its self-assumed role as ëthe world's police force'.
New US envoy to the UN, John Bolton, tabled 700 last-minute amendments to the summit report, in a move that some other diplomats privately described as 'a spoiler'.
In particular, Bolton has sought to minimize concrete commitments to halving global poverty by 2015. However, they were in the document approved on Tuesday, and President Bush noted them again on Wednesday
The current gathering is meeting five years on from the 2000 Millennium Summit, during which 189 leaders pledged to achieve eight core development targets - to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and women's empowerment, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat killer diseases like HIV/AIDS, ensure environmental sustainability and create a global coalition for development.
Privately, US Republicans are scornful of the MDGs. But publicly, they and their allies on the religious right have been forced to deal with them.
This week Christian leaders representing Micah Challenge, a growing worldwide evangelical campaign in support of the Goals, is taking part in major activities in New York and Washington to influence the summit.
The network takes its name from a Hebrew and Christian scripture, Micah 6.8: 'What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.'
A large public vigil began yesterday to mark the three days of the gathering. The event, during which people will pray and fast, has been organised by a coalition of faith groups.
UN secretary general Kofi Annan is due to attend, as well as South African Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane.
[For a programme of church events and more information on the UN summit, see this SojoNet briefing - in *.PDF format]